The City of Red Deer is investigating possible election irregularities after a flurry of complaints were made about an election worker’s social media comment.
On Monday, a staffer at a local polling station commented below Kraymer Barnstable’s posting on the City of Red Deer’s Municipal Election Candidate Q&A Facebook page. Barnstable, a city council candidate who was since been elected, had posted about “appreciating the journey” of participating in the democratic process.
In reply, a female election worker commented that she was privileged to help many seniors cast their vote. “They may not be able to read very well but when you (say) the names that are standing for freedom, they are VERY adamant to have that name marked off. So wise!” the woman wrote on Facebook.
This comment was viewed by many outraged Red Deerians as an election worker using her position to direct seniors to vote for Barnstable and other “freedom” candidates — in contravention of rules stipulate she remain unbiased.
(“Freedom candidates” refers to those who, in their election platforms, objected to provincial mandates implemented to get Albertans vaccinated to stop the high hospitalization rate from COVID-19.)
Complaints about this woman’s’ social media comment came in “from a multitude of people,” said Michelle Baer, manager of legal and legislative services on Wednesday.
The city is now investigating complaints against this polling station worker. However, there are no allegations of wrong-doing against Barnstable, who’s not part of the investigation, she added.
“We take these concerns very seriously,” said Baer, noting that all election workers have been trained on the importance of maintaining impartiality and not interfering in the voting process.
The one-day training course had to be completed either in person or online — and was mandatory for all staff, said Baer.
She believes legal consequences can be imposed on election staffers who break the rules, but she added it would be “impossible” to figure out how many votes would have been affected in such cases, or how to re-write the vote count.
Baer expects the investigation to wrap up in about a week.
Mayoral candidate Brad Magee, who was not elected on Monday, said he’s disturbed that some voters could have been influenced to mark off certain candidates on their ballots.
It wouldn’t have made a difference in the local mayor’s race, as there was a wide margin between Red Deer’s mayor-elect, Ken Johnston, and the five other contenders. But Magee believes it could have made a difference in which candidates got onto city council.
“It’s frustrating, and it’s a violation of the Elections Act,” said Magee, if a polling station worker did coerce or lead voters.
He heard other allegations about impropriety Monday at polling stations — including a woman who alleged she heard some voters being coerced, and a man who claimed his ballot was opened by a polling station worker, who saw who he voted for.
But neither of these allegations were filed as official complaints to the City of Red Deer, said Baer.
However, the city informed residents on Tuesday that re-counts are necessary at two polling stations because of technical problems with vote-counting equipment. The recounts were done on Wednesday and the results did not change anyone’s election status.